Transforming a City, Part I

by Os Hillman,

Reprinted with permission from The Nine to Five Window, by Os Hillman, Regal Books

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  John 17:22-23

Can a city be truly transformed for Jesus Christ? Does it seem like such a lofty goal that few will ever attain it? Well the reality is that today there are no fewer than 200 cities across the world that are in some form of transformation, according to Alistair Petrie, who spoke at the 2004 International Coalition of Workplace Ministries (ICWM) Workplace Transformation Summit. Petrie cited these cities as having a level of transformation in every aspect of their public, governmental and business life.

Webster’s Dictionary defines transformation this way: “to change in nature, disposition, heart, or the like; to convert . . . a thorough or radical change.”(1)  A transformed city is the answer to Jesus’ prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). It is God’s kingdom manifested here on Earth. What does a transformed city look like? It is one that has experienced a spiritual awakening or revival, a declining crime rate and an increase in economic stability.

Workplace Leaders Are Key to City Transformation

One of the first cities in the Bible to be transformed was Sychar, in Samaria, when the Samaritan woman met Jesus at the town well. As we read in John 4:7-26, when Jesus revealed to the woman that He knew she had had five husbands, she was amazed and came to believe in Him. She shared her newfound faith with others in the city, and “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39).

One of the first things that must take place for a city to be transformed is that Jesus must be invited into that city through the city “gatekeepers.” This is what happened in Sychar and what is happening in cities where transformation is taking place today. One such city is Kampala, in Uganda. At one point, 33.3 percent of the population of Uganda had AIDS. The World Health Organization predicted that the nation’s economy would collapse by the year 2000 because there would be only widows and orphans left. So people sought the Lord and prayed. The results?

New city leaders invited Jesus into their city to be Lord over it. Christians have replaced the evil dictatorship of Idi Amin, whose brutality in the 1970s led to the executions of hundreds of thousands of people and plunged the nation into chaos and poverty. Today, the people in Parliament pray, the police fax prayer requests to judges, and a major bank even plays praise music on all 11 floors. In some communities, crime is down 70 percent and AIDS has dropped to 5 percent.(2)

Another important step is that the city must repent of its sins. Jesus went into the cities and did great miracles. Yet many of those cities did not repent, and this angered the Lord. “Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent” (Matt. 11:20).

Workplace leaders are important to city transformation because they are often in places of power to make changes. Dr. Peter Wagner makes the following observations in the foreword to my book, The Faith@Work Movement:

For years we have sought after transformation of our cities. We have prayed, held pastor prayer conferences, prayer-walked our cities, etc. Still, not one U.S. city has been transformed. Why is that? I feel I finally know the answer to that question. It lies in the fact that pastors and church leaders do not hold the authority in the cities where the change must originate. Business and government leaders hold that authority. So, until we in the church equip and release the apostles in the workplace, we will never see our cities transformed by Jesus Christ.

Dawie Spangenberg and his wife, Isebel, lead a worldwide prayer initiative called Transformation Africa. He once made a startling comment to a Christian workplace lunch group in Atlanta: “If a business owner is operating a business in a city and is not directly involved in transforming that city, he is raping that city. He needs to leave that city!” These are strong words, but Spangenberg is convinced that business leaders need to stop trying to see what a business can do for them, start determining why God gave them their business, and then seek to build the kingdom of God in their communities.

The problem that exists today is that workplace apostles are not being recognized-nor do they even recognize themselves. They have not seen their careers as holy callings and have not understood the redemptive nature of their work and calling. Consequently, they often resign themselves to being financiers of God’s work instead of being major catalysts for transformation of their workplaces and cities. And yet, when a man or a woman becomes willing to be used in the context of the workplace, God can accomplish a great deal.

Jeremiah Lanphier is a good example of what I’m talking about. He was a businessman in New York City in the mid-1800s. A simple prayer, a willing heart and an act of obedience resulted in city transformation throughout the United States. Here’s his story:

In a small, darkened room, in the back of one of New York City’s lesser churches, a man prayed alone. His request of God was simple, but earth-shattering: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He was a man approaching midlife, without a wife or family, but he had financial means. He had made a decision to reject the “success syndrome” that drove the city’s businessmen and bankers. God used this businessman to turn New York City’s commercial empire on its head. He began a businessmen’s prayer meeting on September 23, 1857.

The meetings began slowly, but within a few months 20 noonday meetings were convening daily throughout the city. The New York Tribune and the New York Herald issued articles of revival. It had become the city’s biggest news. Now a full-fledged revival, it moved outside New York. By spring of 1858, 2,000 met daily in Chicago’s Metropolitan Theatre, and in Philadelphia the meetings mushroomed into a four-month long tent meeting. Meetings were held in Baltimore, Washington, Cincinnati, Chicago, New Orleans, and Mobile. Thousands met to pray because one man stepped out. This was an extraordinary move of God through one man.(4)    >>Transforming a City, Part 2>>


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